Margaret River: a week in 105 wines

If you haven’t been to Margaret River, I recommend you go. Great weather, beautiful countryside, an amazing food and wine scene, so much to do with the kids (caves, lighthouses, animals, farms, beaches…and plenty of ice cream and chocolate), and zero jet lag if you’re in the Asian timezone. All wrapped up, of course, in that unique Aussie hospitality.

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[our home for the week at the tranquil, and wi-fi-less, Burnside Organic Farm]

Seeing as this is a wine blog and not a tourist board service though, I’ll move on to the vino. Along with some pics, here are my speed dating-style tasting notes from our visit to 9 wineries, 3 restaurants, 3 accommo-drunk bottles and 1 horse-riding centre. We got through over 100 different wines in the 6 days we spent in the region.

I’ve added some general thoughts about the wines – and the industry – at the very end. I’d love to hear any comments you might have.

Morrie’s restaurant, Margaret River township

NV Adelaide Hills Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay)

  • Like a Prosecco but without the residual sugar
  • Dry, toasty, short finish

2012 Juniper Crossing Tempranillo

  • Cherry, plum, damson. Red-wrapper Lindt chocolate ball from the wood
  • Sweet spice; not great balance but enjoyable

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Jester’s Flat horse riding centre (who also produce their own wine)

2015 Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon (“SBS”, as it came to be called by the locals)

  • Gooseberry, grass on capsicum on the nose
  • Flabby acidity, watery, palate not great

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Vasse Felix

2014 Blanc de Blancs

  • Sulphurous note, biscuity and yeasty
  • Apple, citrus – pleasant

2015 Classic Dry White

  • 60% Semillon, 40% Sauv Blanc (or “SSB”)
  • Citrus, dry white, nothing complex

2015 Filius Chardonnay

  • 20% of blend in oak
  • Apple/pear, bracing acidity

2014 Chardonnay

  • Mineral and flinty
  • Toasty oak, well rounded

2014 Heytesbury Chardonnay

  • 65% new oak, rich and rounded
  • More powerful than above

2014 Classic Dry Red

  • Soft Shiraz, pleasant quaffer
  • Some earthiness, cherry, black fruit

2013 Shiraz

  • Wild yeast ferment
  • Brambly, plum, some pepperiness

2014 Filius Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Bags of varietal character; blackcurrant, cassis, leafiness
  • An early drinker, took one back to base

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Tighter, more concentrated than above
  • Should last 5-7 years

2012 Heytesbury Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 18mo in oak, 77% Cab, 16% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot
  • Soft tannins, powerful, dark fruits – needs time

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Cullen

2013 Chenin Blanc

  • Funky, refreshing, high acid

2014 Vineyard White

  • Sauv Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc
  • Very light, citrus dominated

2014 SSB

  • Neutral, forgettable

2013 SSB

  • 90% oak for 5mo, added body
  • 71% Sauv Blanc so very grassy – good

2015 Rose

  • Grenache-based
  • Neutral again but pleasant

2015 Malbec

  • Dark fruit, savoury notes
  • Pleasant fruity/toffee finish – big wine so took one back to base

2012 Vanya

  • Uber-Priced (A$350/bottle) premium Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 3% Petit Verdot for structure
  • Savoury out of the glass, somewhat restrained
  • Soft blackcurrant leaf, liquorice
  • Concentrated and powerful – serious wine
  • Palate: rubbery/leather, farmyard (bacon?), long finish
  • Excellent, but not the same quality as Cloudburst (see forthcoming separate article)

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Drunk at accommo

2014 Xanadu Chardonnay

  • Straw-gold appearance
  • Not overly complex, nice citrus

2014 Hay Shed Hill Vineyard Series Chardonnay

  • Pale yellow with hint of lime-green
  • Understated but very pleasant nose of nougat and vanilla
  • Lovely wine, perfectly balanced on the palate

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2015 Deep Woods Chardonnay

  • Very citrusy, lemon, simple
  • Toasty finish with nice acidity, slightly bitter
  • Not as good as Hay Shed Hill above

Deep Woods

2 Riesling samples / blend

22 Cabernet / Malbec / Shiraz samples

Julian Langworthy, head winemaker (below right), kindly gave me a bottle of their 2010 Cabernet-Merlot, which we flew back to Hong Kong and will lay down for a year so it can properly get over the bottle shock of being bounced around in a suitcase for 10 hours!

Look out for my separate article on their wines…based around how you actually make the stuff. A lot of fun.

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Cloudburst

2012 Chardonnay (1-week-old + just-opened)

2013 Chardonnay

2014 Chardonnay

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

2013 Malbec

Again, another separate article coming on this – it was a truly unique experience with Will Berliner (below) and his ultra-low volume, stunning wines.

cburst_4

Cape Mentelle

2012 Walclife SBS

  • Tropical notes, interesting
  • Barrel fermentation, weightier

2014 Chardonnay

  • Mild smoky oak
  • Good weight

2015 Rose

  • Thin, flabby, not balanced
  • Pleasant red fruit nose but not expressive

2013 Shiraz

  • Restrained but good
  • Fruit forward, but a nice savoury character

2014 Trinders Cabernet-Merlot

  • 29% Merlot so plenty of soft tannin
  • Simple fruit, pleasant

2012 Wilyabrup Cabernet-Merlot

  • Very enjoyable, aromatic and layered
  • Soft on the palate, medium finish

2013 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Really good tannic structure, balanced
  • Complex flavour profile. 91% Cab

2014 Botrytis SBS

  • Sweet wine, candied orange, marmalade
  • Long finish; probably won’t improve much

cape-mentelle-cellar

Swings restaurant, Margaret River township

2013 Swings & Roundabouts Shiraz

  • Dark fruit, very soft
  • Restrained, not particularly tannic 

swings

Leeuwin Estate

2015 Art Series Riesling

  • Disappointing lack of expression on nose
  • Palate better; bracing acidity with apple and citrus

2014 Siblings Sauvignon Blanc

  • Aromatic and floral
  • Saffy’s notes got in on the act…definitely apple and peach in there, sweetheart

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2014 Prelude Chardonnay

  • 9mo in new oak
  • Mineral, balanced, nicely expressive
  • Had with Birthday lunch on winery – great with oysters (see below)

2013 Art Series Chardonnay

  • Heard host say to another taster, “this is one of the best wines in the world”. Not cool
  • 11mo in new oak, nose slightly closed
  • Undoubted quality, long finish but did not blow me away

2013 Siblings Shiraz

  • Medium-bodied, herbaceous nose
  • Pepper fully integrated

2013 Art Series Shiraz (new release)

  • Fruit forward (b/currant), layered with sweet spice
  • 20mo in new oak, super-soft tannins

2012 Prelude Cabernet-Merlot

  • 80% Cab / 20% Merlot
  • Lovely red fruit nose, tannic structure for ageing

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Voyager Estate

Before the notes, the owner of this place is a touch patriotic you could say. Their flag is one of only three this size (a tennis court) in Australia, one other of which sits above Parliament in Canberra:

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2013 Tom Price SSB

  • 91% Semillon, oak 10mo
  • Weighty, pineapple notes but not particularly interesting

Following 6 done as a fancy tasting flight, with accompanying iPad app to boot

2012 Girt by Sea Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Slight (odd?) waxy/oily quality – maybe Semillon hangover from above
  • Good quaffer

2012 Shiraz

  • Fairly neutral, earthy, red fruit
  • Medium bodied, dark cherry

2012 VOC Collection Petit Verdot

  • Violets and dark cherry on the nose
  • Full bodied, bramble, dark fruit

2011 Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Sweet fruit, esp. blackcurrant
  • Beautiful soft and grainy tannins

2011 Cabernet-Merlot

  • Nose still quite closed, savoury
  • Excellent balance between all 4 elements {link to how to taste page}

2007 Cabernet-Merlot

  • Still seems so young
  • Complex and layered nose, fine tannins
  • Lovely soft palate of cedar and dark fruit

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2012 Chardonnay

  • 11mo in oak: not showing on nose but does on palate
  • Light, not overly weighty but good

2009 Chardonnay

  • Golden colour, weighty on palate
  • Excellent balance, long finish – better than Leeuwin AS equivalent – superb
  • Another one that made it into one of the suitcases home

2015 Shiraz Rose (project wine)

  • Acidity surprisingly not flabby
  • Dried strawberries and raspberries

Pierro

2014 Fire Gully SBS

  • 70% Sauv Blanc, no oak
  • Dry, fruity style, a Summer quaffer

2015 LTC SBS (l’il touch of Chardy)

  • Adding 5% Chardonnay to SBS blend
  • Bracing acidity, slight tropical character

2014 Chardonnay

  • Their premium wine, A$80/bottle
  • Weighty and balanced, 12mo in new wood
  • Had interesting banana and herbal quality – excellent

2015 Blanc de Blanc (non-sparkling, different meaning)

  • 85% Chenin Blanc in fresh and fruity style
  • 18g of residual sugar; refreshing, needs to be drunk v.cold

2013 Pino’S

  • 90% Pinot / 10% Shiraz
  • Didn’t really work; bitter aftertaste, out of whack

2012 Fire Gully Shiraz

  • With 7% Viognier (N.Rhone style) – well done, really interesting
  • Floral note with dark fruit, medium/full bodied
  • Another one for the suitcase!

2012 LTCf (l’il touch of Cab Franc)

  • Cab-Marlot majority, not particularly interesting

2011 Reserve Cabernet-Merlot

  • 63% Cab Sauv / 32% Merlot / 5% Cab Franc
  • 18mo oak, a serious wine
  • Less fruit but a real eucalyptus note there, slightly medicinal

2005 Shiraz Blend No.1 Reserve

  • Mature nose, a touch meaty
  • Plum/dark fruit palate with a herbal finish

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Hay Shed Hill

A monster tasting to finish…a total of 16 wines. This estate produces 30 in total.

2015 Kerrigan+Berry Riesling

  • Citrus, bracing acidity, very refreshing
  • Good as a drink-now aperitif or could last 10+ years

2015 Block SBS

  • Nose more interesting than palate
  • Herbal, passion fruit

2015 Vineyard Series Chardonnay (tried the excellent ’14 at base)

  • Fresh, rounded, no malolactic fermentation
  • Didn’t quite have the depth of the ’14 – still good though
  • Snuck one back to HK

2015 Block 6 Chardonnay

  • 12mo in oak, again no malo
  • Closed vs. above – more serious wine – but long pleasant finish

2015 Pinot Noir Rose

  • Don’t like rose and this didn’t change my mind
  • Summery nose as expected but acidity and body all wrong

2014 Tempranillo

  • Surprisingly, goes through carbonic maceration {link}, but not obvious on the nose
  • Nice grainy tannins with red fruit

2014 Shiraz-Tempranillo

  • 86% Shiraz; quite powerful
  • Rustic dark fruit, medium finish, high acid

2014 Block 8 Cabernet Franc

  • Blackcurrant + herbal nose
  • Super dry, gasping for air, tannic and concentrated. Very good
  • Fifth and final bottle that made the cut for journey home

2014 Grenache

  • Closed on the nose, short finish
  • Forgettable

2015 Nebbiolo

  • Closed nose again, slightly vegetal
  • Proves why this grape only works in Piedmonte

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 100% Cab; lovely varietal nose
  • Straightforward dark fruit and sweet spice palate, great little quaffer

2012 Block 2 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Layered nose, very good (18mo oak
  • Good balance, long finish, slight sweetness there

2011 K+B Cabernet Sauvignon

  • More of a Claret style; bramble/plum
  • Slightly closed; definitely a keeper

2014 Malbec

  • Dark fruit, soft palate
  • Not sure they needed to produce this one

2014 Cordon Cut Viognier

  • Sweet wine; floral, honey, honeycomb finish
  • Not cloying, nice acidity, all late harvest (not enough damp for botrytis)

Muscat

  • Made in their own 9-year-old Solera system…usually found in Jerez, Spain
  • Fortified wine; 21% alcohol
  • Caramel, coffee, brown sugar, nutty
  • Rich espresso finish, some sort of honeyed macadamia

hayshedhill

Phew. All done. 

Do shout if you need more detail on any of the wines – I’d be happy to share!

If you’ve made it to the bottom of this article, I’d say this last producer, purely from a wine discovery perspective, was a great example of the good and bad side of a trip like this. While many New World wineries are still in a stage of experimentation (a lot of these estates only planted their first vines in the 90s and 00s, while in the Old World many have been around since the 1800s), I still feel they’re adopting too much of a, “let’s do everything and see what sticks” approach.

It can create confusion for the consumer, and moreover, means you have to trawl through a LOT of wine in order to narrow down what you really like. Firstly stylistically, that is, do you like early-drinking fruit-forward wines, or complex stuff that’s closed now but will reward you in 5+ years? Secondly, what actual grapes and/or blends float your boat?

I’d much rather see a winery spend a decade developing their specialities, then terrain, aspect and soil permitting, hone in on producing just 3 or 4 exceptional wines that people will love and pay for.

It was great to see a lot of people from overseas (especially Asia) at some of the wineries. With their trendy degustation lunches, places like Vasse Felix, one of the very first growers in Margaret River, have now got a highly polished operation that appeal directly to this audience. I fear though their wines may follow a similar path, in that they are targeting a burgeoning audience with offerings that follow a set formula, and lose a lot of the character and expression of place that got them to where they are in the first place.

But all that aside, it was a really enjoyable trip, hugely relaxing, and our first proper experience of the broad spectrum of Margaret River wines. We’ll definitely be loyal to a number of producers and specific bottles from here, as some were world class and we wouldn’t have had access to them in Hong Kong.

As you’ll also see in upcoming articles, it was augmented by the pleasure of getting to know some interesting characters, to go with some truly unique wines.

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[standing on top of Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, where the Southern and Indian Oceans meet, at Australia’s most south-westerly point]

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One thought on “Margaret River: a week in 105 wines

  1. Bronwyn

    Wow sounds like trip was fabulous, tried a few wines there Dave! I am beginning to feel like a failure by only drinking my kiwi sauv blanc

    Like

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